2021 Cleveland Indians Top 5 Prospects

2021 Cleveland Indians Top 5 Prospects

by March 5, 2021 1 comment

As Cleveland transitions into the post-Francisco Lindor era, they will need to rely on their very talented farm system. Baseball America currently has four prospects in Cleveland’s farm system in the top-100 and they are ranked 6th in all of baseball.

In the Terry Francona era, Cleveland has relied on their embarrassment of riches in their rotation. With plenty of great arms in the system, Cleveland will have no problem once again replacing some arms that have been shipped out. Cleveland also has a wide range of great young bats. Most of their higher-potential hitters are a couple of years away from seeing the show, but Cleveland should have no problem filling the void of a once serious World Series contender.

Make sure to check out all of our other MLB Team Top Prospects

1. Nolan Jones– 3B/OF

Scouting Grades

  • HIT-50
  • POWER-60
  • RUN-40
  • ARM-60
  • FIELD-50
  • OVERALL-55

Jones is a 22-year-old second-round selection in the 2016 first-year player draft. This will be Jones’ second consecutive year as Cleveland’s top prospect. While he may be Major League ready, there is not a real spot for him on the team with Jose Ramirez at third. He spent much of his time at Cleveland’s alternative site learning how to play a corner outfield spot. While that won’t hurt his chances at making the team, Cleveland is committed to Josh Naylor and Eddie Rosario in these sports.

Jones’ offense is headlined by his pure power and ability to work the count. He has a career .409 OBP in the minors. Despite his high strikeout rates, Jones does not have issues making contact. His natural athletism and eye for the strike zone allow him to take over at-bats and select his pitches. A lot of scouts mention Joey Votto as a good comparison at the plate. Someone who draws a lot of walks and finds the gap very easily. With a league-high 96 walks in 2019, he was selected to the futures game and then was immediately brought up to double-A Akron.

Defensively is a crutch for Jones. While he is a third baseman, his lack of lateral quickness and range give him a massive disadvantage at one of the corner spots. While it is a big problem that Jones must figure out, this is not unfamiliar territory for Cleveland. Before Ramirez permanently moved to third base after the 2016 all-star break, he had moved all around because he didn’t really fit in anywhere. Jones will be the same way, but he will do it in the minors.

ETA- 2021

2. George Valera– OF

  • HIT-60
  • POWER-55
  • RUN-50
  • ARM-50
  • FIELD-50
  • OVERALL-50

Due to an injury in 2018 and the pandemic wiping out the minor league season in 2020, Valera has not had a ton of experience in pro ball. The 20-year-old international product signed with the team in 2017 out of the Dominican Republic. He actually moved to the Dominican Republic from New York at age 13.

Valera spent the summer of 2020 at the team’s alternate site getting at-bats against pro ball pitchers. One Cleveland scout was surprised at how advanced Valera is in his progression at age 20. Valera will most likely begin the year in high-A as he continues his development. With a 142wRC+ and a walk rate of 15.4%, he has shown an advanced presence at the plate. However, with only a .217 BA in 2019, Valera still has a lot of work to do before he can contribute in Cleveland.

While he spends most of his time in center field, Valera’s game translates more to a corner spot. Even with average arm strength, he has thrown out 11 runners. His speed is also something that would make a transition to a corner spot make sense. Valera needs work at all phases of the game, but his talent is among the best in the system, and with a couple more years of reps, he should be ready to play every day at the big level.

ETA- 2023

3. Tyler Freeman– SS

  • HIT-60
  • POWER-40
  • RUN-50
  • ARM-50
  • FIELD-50
  • OVERALL-55

Freeman was drafted by Cleveland in the second round of the 2017 draft. He has excelled at every level he has been at. One of the better hitting talents in the system, Freeman appears to be the replacement for Lindor when his number is called.

His elite hitting potential showed early in his career. In 2018 he slashed .352/.405/.511. After a promotion the following year, he continued to show signs of an advanced hitter with a wRC+ of 138 while also improving his batting average and dropping his strikeout rate to 9.1%. While Freeman has a great feel at the plate, his power remains to be a concern. He has only seven career home runs in his minor league career. There were rumors out of the alternate site last year that he significantly improved his power, but there is no validity to that.

Freeman is a lot like Lindor when he was making his way up the ranks. Both great hitters who entered their pro careers with below-average power. While Lindor has become one of the best pure power hitters at shortstop, he was never seen as a legitimate home run threat. Freeman is the same way. He needs to work on his range at shortstop, but Freeman will be in Cleveland very soon.

ETA- 2022

4. Daniel Espino– SP

  • FASTBALL-70
  • CURVEBALL-55
  • SLIDER-60
  • CHANGEUP-50
  • CONTROL-50
  • OVERALL-50

Espino was drafted in the first round of the 2019 draft. Originally from Panama, Espino moved to Georgia during his sophomore year of high school. He was widely considered to be the best pitcher in his draft class due to his advanced fastball.

When Espino moved to Georgia, he was already pushing mid-80s on his fastball as a sophomore. By the time he reached his senior year, he was throwing in the upper-90s. His main weapon is a devastating fastball that has a lethal combination of power and movement. While this combination produces a lot of strikeouts, he was knocked around in 10 innings last year with a 6.10 ERA.

Espino has been able to succeed with his strength, but he is prone to lose control of his breaking pitches. Losing a year of development hurts and delays his eventual rise to the show. Espino could be a prime candidate for a September call-up or a replacement for an injury. For now, he needs to learn how to compliment his fastball with an assortment of breaking pitches.

ETA- 2022

5. Ethan Hankins– SP

  • FASTBALL-60
  • CURVEBALL-55
  • SLIDER-50
  • CHANGEUP-55
  • CONTROL-50
  • OVERALL-50

Hankins is a 2018 first-year draft selection out of Forsyth Central High School in Cumming, Georgia. Hankins was committed to pitch at Vanderbilt University before deciding to sign with Cleveland after the draft.

When healthy his fastball sits right around 92-96 MPH with great control. With a 6’6 frame at age 20, he has the room to improve his already devastating fastball. Scouts are very excited at his potential with the changeup but still needs more work. He really needs to find that breaking-ball to supplement his fastball. Hankins has a strikeout rate of 30% and is slowly starting to put all his pitches together. He still needs more reps against pro arms as his ERA sits around 4.64.

Hankins will most likely start the season in double-A Akron where he will continue to develop his breaking pitches. While he uses an unpredictable pace to throw batters off, his 5.06 walks per nine is concerning. He is only 20-years old and still figuring out how to adjust in pro ball. With a few more years, he could be making his way to the top of Cleveland’s rotation. He is a much better talent than Espino, but age is the reason that he falls one spot behind him.

ETA- 2023

Cleveland was able to acquire Andres Gimenez in the Lindor trade who will most likely be sharing time with Amed Rosario at shortstop. While Freeman is the clear shortstop in waiting, Cleveland has a lot of talent in their system at this position. Knowing how Cleveland operates, players like Ramirez, Roberto Perez, and other veterans will most likely be traded soon and Cleveland will start the process of bringing up their very talented farm system.

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